Starring John Carroll Lynch, Lindsay Burdge, Michiel Huisman, Logan Marshall-Green
Directed by Karyn Kusama
With The Invitation, director Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body) and team have offered up a fascinating look into the privileged lives of a group of old friends who convene to reconnect after a tragedy split them apart. Showing events unfolding through the night during a dinner party, the story starts with a confident, civilized discourse that begins to unwind into a comfortable dinner and then, suddenly, an out of control outburst. Somewhat like a refined dinner guest that suddenly realizes he or she has had too much to drink by the end of the night, The Invitation goes from pleasantry to pain as the evening grows later.
The familiar, comfortable group dynamic that used to exist between each guest is immediately undermined by two mysterious newcomers – Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), a bullish alpha that seems like more of an overseer than a friend, and Sadie (Lindsay Burdge), a psychosexual hippie that doesn’t know whether to fight, flirt or feast. They are both guests of David (Michiel Huisman), the new head of household now living with Eden (Tammy Blanchard) who used to be married to Will (Logan Marshall-Green) who grown suspicious of David and Eden’s intentions from the get go. Understandably shaken by the loss of their son, Will and Eden are no longer together and the dinner party is the first night Will’s been back inside the same house where tragedy struck in the form of a baseball bat one sunny day at a backyard BBQ. Will is still noticeably damaged but Eden is chipper to the point of denial, sparking Will’s distrust of David, Pruitt and Sadie especially when they suggest that they should all watch a strange video. After watching, David and the others slowly try to convince the others that the tragedy and pain in their lives can be washed away by following the principles they’ve learned on a far away retreat in Mexico.
Logan Marshall-Green’s performance is the bedrock of what makes The Invitation so effective as his growing need to uncover what exactly is going on throughout the course of the evening threatens to leave him completely unhinged, and as his unease grows the viewer also grows more and more uncomfortable. The real intent of the nights proceedings don’t ever come out into the open for the majority of the film, leaving you wondering if this is an innocent evening after all instead of a Dionysian feast veering towards something darkly sinister.
It is also John Carroll Lynch’s portrayal of Pruitt and his spiritual opposite Sadie (Burdge) that keep the eeriness lurking in the background, mostly in unassuming moments where Pruitt looks to be helping a guest leave who feels uncomfortable and a striking moment where Will finds Sadie making disturbing faces to herself alone in the bathroom mirror. Something just feels off and that established feeling plays on the general nervousness of social gatherings where sometimes everything feels forced and unnatural. What if it’s more than just not hitting it off? What if there’s a reason everyone doesn’t feel quite right.
Karyn Kusama has a delicate touch, pushing the intensity ever so slightly until an intimate get together becomes something greater; something that stands for something instead of just a gluttonous evening that everyone will eventually forget. The Invitation works so well because it taps into our general distrust of the world around us and how our survival instinct has been muted and ignored in order to maintain the appearance of being polite. If there’s anything to learn from that, maybe the next time you feel something strange afoot you should make sure the key is still in the door.